Storagetek v. Custom Hardware Engineering (Fed. Cir. 2005)
Normally, the unauthorized duplication of computer software violates the exclusive right of the copyright holder. Section 117(c) of the Copyright Act, however, authorizes the copying of a computer program for purposes of maintaining or repairing a machine if the “copy is made solely by the virtue of activation of [that] machine”.
In a case of first impression, the Federal Circuit addresses the extent of this protection offered by 17 U.S.C. § 117(c). The Court of Appeals, relying on definitions in 17 U.S.C. § 117(d), held that § 117(c) protects maintenance and repair as two different activities. “Repair,” according to the Federal Circuit, is restoring a broken machine to its original specifications. “Maintenance,” on the other hand, has “a much broader temporal connotation” that “encompass[es] monitoring systems for problems [and] not simply fixing a single, isolated malfunction.” Thus, the Federal Circuit found erroneous the district court’s conclusion that only repair activities are protected under Sec. 117(c).
Furthermore, the Court of Appeals also found DMCA provisions likely not applicable. Circumvention of a technological measure providing access to a copyrighted work is not a violation of DMCA, according to the Federal Circuit, unless it “infringes or facilitates infringing a right protected by the Copyright Act.” Finally, the Court of Appeals did not agree, based on material factors, that the copyrighted work in question should receive trade secret protection.
The Federal Circuit thus vacated the district court’s grant of a preliminary injunction to Storage Technology and remanded for further proceedings. Judge Rader, in dissent, decried the majority’s decision as “destroy[ing] copyright protection for software that continually monitors computing machine behavior.”
NOTE: This post was written by Cory Hojka. Mr. Hojka is a law clerk at MBHB and a student at the University of Chicago Law School.